It is unlikely that there will ever be a better horror movie about the relationship of a repressed young man to his ravenous rats than this remake of the 1973 version starring Bruce Davison and Ernest Borgnine.
Crispin Glover plays the title character, a quietly desperate man who lives in a huge, decaying mansion with his even more decaying mother. He works at the business his father once owned, for Mr. Martin (R. Lee Ermey), a man who constantly humiliates him. Willard does what he is told. When his mother tells him to kill the rats in the basement, he goes to the store to buy traps and poison. But when a small white mouse is caught in a trap, he carefully rescues it, names it Socrates, and it becomes first a pet and then his only friend.
Willard then discovers that he has a psychic connection to the rats, especially a huge one he names Ben. They become the embodiment of his id, the unleashed resentment and anger of 20 years. He looses them, with great satisfaction on Martin’s fancy new Mercedes. But then, like the sorceror’s apprentice, he finds he is no longer in control. The rats are hungry.
The movie’s strengths are Glover’s genuine weirdness and the stunning production design. Screenwriter/director Glen Morgan has both passion and feel for the material and a macabre sense of humor. Fans of the original will enjoy seeing Davison’s appear in a portrait and photos as Willard’s father and a reprise of Michael Jackson’s “Ben,” the hit song from the sequel to the original movie, now even creepier than it was back then.
Parents should know that this is a horror movie with real horror, including some scary shocks, some very tense and suspenseful moments, and some very grisly images. Characters are in peril and some are killed.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Willard felt he had no alternatives, and how stories like this are often inspired by the consequences of keeping feelings inside and a sense of powerlessness. Why was Willard unable to accept Katherine’s offer of friendship?
Families who enjoy this movie should see the original, but not waste time on the sequel, “Ben.”